Many years ago, when I was unsure if CD would stick as a format, and with a new player in hand I bought a copy of a Michelle Shocked album, the Campfire Tapes. It had noise in the background, crickets, the nearby road, a one take field recording of her at that moment, I loved, and love the unfinished natural wonder of that record. When I heard Bragg was to do something similar I couldn't have been more excited. A fan since 'Brewing up with", through the protest years, the pop stardom and his new found country love, my love for William Bloke has remained strong.
65 hours and 2,728 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles by train in the company of Joe Henry the pair leapt from the train to record 13 classics from the likes of Hank Williams, Lead Belly, The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers to name a few in ticket halls, waiting rooms and even trackside.
It's the atmospherics that really bring the album alive, station announcers in the background, other trains thundering by and chirping birds. Bragg has done similar things in the past, his USSR/USA ep was live, but in the gig situation, this is organic and the interplay between Bragg and Henry lovely. It is Henry that comes out the better of the two and the songs where he leads especially 'Lonesome Whistle' and 'KC Moan' are highlights, the latter having a power cable whistling from a passing train as accompaniment.
It is a wonderfully gentle record, charming and really engaging, 'Gentle on my Mind' is truly delicious, and now with live dates to follow the albums release I cannot wait to hear tales of life on the shiny rails. Bragg has always been one of the best delivers of a love song and his lament to an industry past, 'The L&N don't stop here anymore', means this is a very enjoyable trip - in fact even his odd bit of Barking yodelling can't put you off. There is something about the American railroad that means it's romantic, and fitting of this tribute, somehow the 7:16 to Crewe doesn't have that same level of imagery, but if anyone can make its so Bragg/Henry can, look what he did for the road to Shoeburyness.
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